Cooperation among governments, companies, school districts and higher education are needed now more than ever to combat voids left by labor force retirements and meet evolving work skills.

“It will take all of us,” TSTC Provost Adam Hutchison said. “This is a great time to be in Central Texas.”

Hutchison spoke to at least 80 area governments, economic and education leaders Thursday at the Heart of Texas Council of Governments’ annual business meeting at TSTC.

Hutchison talked to the gathering about the skills gap in Texas.

He said TSTC’s mission is to drive economic development through workforce education. He said that through 2024 half the labor market will require at least a two-year degree or better, with a lot of the best-paying jobs being in the science, technology, mathematics and engineering fields.

“Low skills are going away and being automated away,” Hutchison said.

The provost said associate degree graduates in Texas who add technical classes to their study programs earn an additional $16,900 more yearly than students who do not take technical classes for degrees.

“TSTC is marvelous,” said Hillsboro Mayor Edith Omberg. “I have children that are older now, but I wish they had the opportunity to get some technical education.”

Some of the programs already in place statewide to stimulate the workforce include the Jobs and Education for Texans Grant Program, the 60x30TX higher education strategic plan, the P-TECH high school plan and dual credit.

Hutchison touted Connally Early College High School in the Connally Independent School District as an example of high school students being able to get technical college credit while working toward high school diplomas.

“These are the good old days, and we need to make sure everyone is part of this renaissance in Waco,” City Councilman James Holmes said.

Hutchison said employers should work on curriculum development and provide internships and other resources to make sure skills being taught can be used quickly in the workplace.

“I believe schools like TSTC are crown jewels in the economic development of a community,” said Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne. “If we want to be successful as a community, we need to invest in the education of our workforce and ensure they are provided the necessary skills.”

Burns came from a farming and ranching background and attended Hill College, Tarleton State University and Texas A&M University.

“In the agriculture field, we have equipment that you need to work with, and those certifications are either required or come in handy,” he said. “I don’t know that in my education that I took a technical course per se, but I know the value of those skills.”

Russell Devorsky, the council of governments’ executive director, said TSTC is in the position to lead Texas to higher goals.

“TSTC is a wonderful campus that shows us the future of Texas,” he said.

The Heart of Texas Council of Governments represents Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, Limestone and McLennan counties. The regional council works on economic and community development along with rural transportation and other issues.

For more information on the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, go to hotcog.org.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.